November News from the Library of Congress

What started at the turn of the century as an effort to create a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S., has resulted in a month being designated for that purpose.

The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans with this joint web portal highlighting collections, resources and events: nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov/ 

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Today in History – November 16

Oklahoma entered the Union as the forty-sixth state on November 16, 1907. Five days later, The Beaver Herald, the Beaver County Oklahoma newspaper, carried this news, reporting in the headline that “The Brightest Star in the Constellation Now Shines for the 46th State—Oklahoma.” The history of Oklahoma is tied to the early nineteenth-century use of this land for relocating the Native American population from the settled portions of the United States. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act on May 30, 1830, authorizing land grants in this open prairie, west of the Mississippi, in exchange for Native American property to the east. Oklahoma became the migration destination of Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee tribes as the federal government coerced these peoples to relocate. Known as the “five civilized tribes,” these Native Americans of the south and southeastern United States were forced west by the enormous land hunger of this period. By 1880, sixty tribes had moved to Oklahoma where they created a government structure, landownership laws, and a thriving culture. Thus, the name Oklahoma is derived from the Choctaw Indian words “okla,” meaning people, and “humma,” meaning red.

Cheyenne Sun Dancer. Henry C. Chaufty, c1909. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

In 1889 Congress opened part of the region, which the United States had acquired in 1803 under the terms of the Louisiana Purchase, to settlement by non-Native Americans. The Oklahoma Territory was organized in 1890. The new state of Oklahoma incorporated what remained of Indian Territory.

Home of Quanah Parker, near Cache, Okla.External Denver Public Library Digital Collections: Photographs.External

Ben Stimmel was among the first non-Native Americans to take advantage of the opportunity to settle in the Oklahoma Territory. A native of Ohio, Stimmel had spent the 1880s mining gold in White Oaks, New Mexico. “We lived in White Oaks until September 1889,” Stimmel recalled, “when we set out in a covered wagon drawn by four horses, to go to Oklahoma to buy a farm. We had two children and two hound pups.”

They settled in Hennessy, Oklahoma, Stimmel remembered, “where we built up a real nice farm and lived for twenty five years.” But on April 20, 1912, disaster struck:

A cyclone hit our farm. It took the roof off of our house, and destroyed our barn and all out buildings. We had a hundred Indian Runner ducks and after the storm we found them about half a mile from the house in a mud swamp, all dead. The family saw the cyclone coming and all got in the storm cellar. After the storm I salvaged what I could from the farm and left Oklahoma for Lincoln County, New Mexico, where they don’t have cyclones. I have lived here ever since.

[Ben Stimmel]. Edith L.Crawford, interviewer; Carrizozo, New Mexico. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division

Driving Cattle to Pasture. [Bliss, Oklahoma Territory] A.C. Abadie, camera; Thomas A. Edison, Inc., May 9, 1904. America at Work, America at Leisure: Motion Pictures from 1894 to 1915. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division

Oklahoma was devastated by the weather conditions of the 1930s. Thousands of families migrated west, out of the Dust Bowl, to take advantage of the opportunities that California afforded.

Oklahoma Refugees. California. Dorothea Lange, photographer, Feb. 1936. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division

In the mid-1930s, Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographer Dorothea Lange traveled to Oklahoma to document the devastating effects of the Great Depression and seven-year drought, which had reduced the Southern Great Plains to a “Dust Bowl” unsuitable for farming. Lange’s work includes numerous images of Oklahoma farm families in and en route to California in search of a better life.

The popular image of this plains state changed with the premiere of the musical Oklahoma in 1943.

Richard Rodgers (seated at piano) and Oscar Hammerstein II. Richard Rodgers Collection, 1917-1980. Music Division

Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) collaborated on some of the most popular musicals of the twentieth century. This joint effort, the 1943 production Oklahoma, was set in Oklahoma Territory near Claremore in 1906, and focused on a young cowboy and his sweetheart.

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Today in History – November 15

Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.

Article II, Articles of Confederation

On November 15, 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation. Submitted to the states for ratification two days later, the Articles of Confederation were accompanied by a letter from Congress urging that the document…

…be candidly reviewed under a sense of the difficulty of combining in one general system the various sentiments and interests of a continent divided into so many sovereign and independent communities, under a conviction of the absolute necessity of uniting all our councils and all our strength, to maintain and defend our common liberties…

Monday, November 17, 1777, Journals of the Continental Congress. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875. Law Library

Although Congress debated the Articles for over a year, they requested immediate action on the part of the states. However, three-and-a-half years passed before ratification on March 1, 1781.

Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union Between the States… Williamsburg [Va.]: Printed by Alexander Purdie, 1777. Printed Ephemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Still at war with Great Britain, the colonists were reluctant to establish another powerful national government. Jealously guarding their new independence, the Continental Congress created a loosely structured unicameral legislature that protected the liberty of the individual states at the expense of the nation. While calling on Congress to regulate military and monetary affairs, for example, the Articles of Confederation provided no mechanism to ensure that states complied with requests for troops or revenue. At times this left the military in a precarious position as George Washington wrote in a 1781 letter to the governor of Massachusetts, John Hancock.

The Treaty of Paris, which ended hostilities with England, languished in Congress for months before it was ratified because state representatives failed to attend sessions of the national legislature. Yet, Congress had no power to enforce attendance. Writing to George Clinton in September 1783, George Washington complained:

Congress have come to no determination yet respecting the Peace Establishment, nor am I able to say when they will. I have lately had a conference with a Committee on this subject, and have reiterated my former opinions, but it appears to me that there is not a sufficient representation to discuss Great National points.

Letter George Washington to George Clinton, September 11, 1783. Series 3, Varick Transcripts, 1775-1785, Subseries 3H, Personal Correspondence, 1775-1783, Letterbook 3. George Washington Papers. Manuscript Division

Leaders of the Continental Congress
Leaders of the Continental Congress–John Adams, Morris, Hamilton, Jefferson / A. Tholey. Augustus Tholey, artist, c1894. Prints & Photographs Division

In May 1786, Charles Pinckney of South Carolina proposed that Congress revise the Articles of Confederation. On August 7, 1786, a committee recommended amendments to the Articles that included granting Congress power over foreign and domestic commerce and providing means for Congress to collect money from state treasuries. Unanimous approval was necessary to make the alterations, however, and Congress failed to reach a consensus.

In September 1786, a convention was held in Annapolis, Maryland, in an effort to deal with problems of interstate commerce. Led by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, the delegates at the Annapolis Convention issued a proposal for a new convention to revise the Articles of Confederation.

After debate, Congress endorsed the plan to revise the Articles of Confederation on February 21, 1787.

Although ultimately supplanted by the United States Constitution, the Articles of Confederation provided stability during the Revolutionary War years. Most importantly, the experience of drafting and living under this initial document provided valuable lessons in self-governance and somewhat tempered fears about a powerful central government. Still, reconciling the tension between state and federal authority continued to challenge Americans from the 1832 nullification crisis to the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision.

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Today in History – November 14

On November 14, 1732, the Library Company of Philadelphia signed a contract with its first librarian. Founded by Benjamin Franklin and friends in November 1731, the library enrolled members for a fee of forty shillings but had to wait for books to arrive from England before beginning full operation.

Benjamin Franklin opening first subscription library in Philadelphia. Photograph of a painting by Charles E. Mills, between 1900 and 1912. cFranklin Foundation. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Many subscription libraries—founded to benefit academies, colleges, and other groups—were established from the late seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. The Library Company of Philadelphia grew out of the needs of the Leather Apron Club, also known as the “Junto,” of which Franklin was a member. In addition to exchanging business information, these merchants discussed politics and natural philosophy, contributing to their requirements for books to satisfy their widespread interests. Volumes were purchased with the annual contributions of shareholders, building a more comprehensive library than any individual could afford.

Directors of the Library Company made their holdings available to the first Continental Congress when it convened in Philadelphia in September 1774. Their offer is recorded in the Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789:

Extract from minutes of the directors of the Library Company of Philadelphia, dated August 31 st .,—directed to the President, was read, as follows:

Upon motion, ordered,
That the Librarian furnish the gentlemen, who are to meet in Congress, with the use of such Books as they may have occasion for, during their sitting, taking a receipt for them. By order of the Directors,
(Signed) William Attmore, Sec’y.

Ordered, That the thanks of the Congress be returned to the Directors of the Library Company of Philadelphia, for their obliging order.

Tuesday, September 6, 1774. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875. Law Library

After independence, the third session of the new Federal Congress convened in Philadelphia in January 1791, and the Library Company directors again tendered use of their facility. In essence, the Library Company served as the de facto Library of Congress until 1800 when the fledgling legislature moved to its permanent Washington, D.C., location and the Library of Congress was founded.

Many other subscription libraries developed in the United States. These include the Boston Athenaeum External in Massachusetts (1807); Willoughby Township Library External in Ohio (1827); Onarga Community Library External in Illinois (1858); Aberdeen Free Library Association in the Dakota Territory (1884); and Grand Junction library External in Colorado (1897).

The advent of free public libraries, supported in large part by Andrew Carnegie, diminished the subscription library’s importance. Today, subscription libraries, with their rich holdings of rare books, prints, and photographs, are enormously valuable to students of United States history and culture.

Athenaeum, Boston, Mass. c1906. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

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Today in History – November 13

General Richard Montgomery led American troops in the capture of Montreal on November 13, 1775. The American presence in Canada proved short-lived. Just weeks later, British victory at Quebec forced a hasty retreat to New York.

The Embarkation of Montgomery’s troops at Crown Point… Sydney Adamson artist; J. W. Evans, engraver; Illus. in: The Century illustrated monthly magazine. New York : The Century Co., 1902 Nov., p. 77. Prints & Photographs Division

I have the pleasure to acquaint you with the surrender of Chambly to Major Brown and Major Livingston, which last headed about three hundred Canadians…. The troops are in high spirits. Col. Warner has had a little brush with a party from Montreal. The enemy retired with the loss of five prisoners and some killed; some of the prisoners (Canadians) are dangerous enemies, and must be taken care of…

Extract of a letter from General Montgomery, dated camp before St. John’s, October 20, 1775 … [Philadelphia: Printed by William and Thomas Bradford, 1775].Documents from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

After joining Benedict Arnold, who had led American troops through the Maine wilderness to Canada, Montgomery attacked the city of Quebec on December 31. Montgomery was killed in the failed attempt to capture the city, and Arnold retreated to Fort Ticonderoga in northeastern New York.

Although Arnold was a loyal American officer in 1775, four years later he began corresponding with British officer Major John André. Eventually, Arnold earned infamy for betraying American secrets to the British.

Working Against the Flood on Dead River. Sydney Adamson, artist, H. Davidson, engraver; illus. in: The Century illustrated monthly magazine. New York: The Century Co., Jan. 1903, p. 532. Prints & Photographs Division

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Today in History – November 12

On November 12, 1815, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, spokesperson for the rights of women, was born in Johnstown, New York. Stanton formulated the philosophical basis of the woman suffrage movement, blazing a trail many feared to follow.

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world…wherever we turn, the history of woman is sad and dark, without any alleviating circumstances, nothing from which we can draw consolation.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Declaration of Sentiments.” In The First Convention Ever Called to Discuss the Civil and Political Rights of Women, Seneca Falls, N. Y., July 19, 20, 1848. National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

In advocating suffrage for women as a central point in her manifesto of woman’s rights, the “Declaration of Sentiments,” Stanton forged ahead of Quaker minister Lucretia Mott and other organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention of July 19 and July 20, 1848. As the suffragists gathered adherents to the cause, Stanton refused to limit her demands solely to the vote. She remained in the movement’s vanguard, arguing vigorously for a woman’s right to higher education, to a professional life, and to a legal identity that included the right to own property and to obtain a divorce.

[Elizabeth Cady Stanton, seated, and Susan B. Anthony, standing…] [between 1880 and 1902]. Women’s Suffrage: Pictures of Suffragists and Their Activities. Portraits. Prints & Photographs Division

Stanton’s verbal brilliance combined with the organizational ability and mental focus of her lifelong collaborator Susan B. Anthony made the two women a formidable resource to the early cause.

Miss Anthony…invariably gave Mrs. Stanton credit for all that was accomplished. She often said that Mrs. Stanton was the brains of the new association, while she herself was merely its hands and feet; but in truth the two women worked marvelously together, for Mrs. Stanton was a master of words and could write and speak to perfection of the things Susan B. Anthony saw and felt but could not herself express.

The Story of a Pioneer, by Anna Howard Shaw. New York, London: Harper & Brothers [1915] p. 240. Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820 to 1910. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

Although Stanton served as president of the “radical” National Woman Suffrage Association and its successor the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), she found it increasingly difficult to maintain her leadership role. Interestingly, her agenda was far more radical than that of many younger, more conservative feminists.

Stanton’s belief that organized religion subjugated women alienated some supporters. In The Woman’s Bible, she brought considerable notoriety upon herself by criticizing the treatment of women in the Old Testament.

Draft of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible, ca1895. (Elizabeth Cady Stanton Papers). Manuscript Division

She expressed her philosophy of the natural rights of woman in an address she delivered before the Committee of the Judiciary of the United States Congress at the venerable age of seventy-seven:

The strongest reason for giving woman all the opportunities for higher education, for the full development of her faculties…complete emancipation from all forms of bondage, of custom, dependence, superstition; from all the crippling influences of fear, is the solitude and personal responsibility of her own individual life…

To guide our own craft, we must be captain, pilot, engineer; with chart and compass to stand at the wheel; to match the wind and waves and know when to take in the sail, and to read the signs in the firmament over all. It matters not whether the solitary voyager is man or woman.

Solitude of Self: address delivered by Mrs. Stanton before the Committee of the Judiciary of the United States Congress, Monday, January 18, 1892. [Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1915]. National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

Elizabeth Cady was educated at Johnstown Academy, where she was the only girl in the higher classes studying Latin, Greek, and mathematics. Barred from obtaining a college degree because of her gender, she continued her studies at Emma Willard’s academy, where she discovered natural rights philosophy. She read law with her father, Judge Daniel Cady, but was not admitted to the New York Bar because women were excluded. Her legal and philosophical studies and her own experiences convinced her of the discriminatory nature of the laws regarding women, and she resolved to work for the reform of those laws.

In 1840, Cady married anti-slavery activist Henry Stanton, refusing to use the word “obey” in the ceremony. The mother of seven children, she lectured on the subjects of family life and child rearing, abolition, temperance, and women’s rights until her death at the age of eighty-seven. Her daughter Harriot Stanton Blatch followed in her footsteps to continue the fight for women’s rights.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her daughter, Harriot–from a daguerreotype 1856. Photograph taken between 1890-1910. Prints & Photographs Division

Mrs. Stanton was the most brilliant conversationalist I have ever known…Most of the conversation…was contributed by Mrs. Stanton and Miss Anthony, while the rest of us sat…at their feet…Mrs. Stanton…was rarely accurate in giving figures or dates, while Miss Anthony was always very exact in such matters. She frequently corrected Mrs. Stanton’s statements, and Mrs. Stanton usually took the interruption in the best possible spirit…On one occasion I recall, however, she held fast to her opinion that she was right…

“No, Susan,” she insisted, “you’re wrong for once. I remember perfectly when that happened, for it was at the time I was beginning to wean Harriet.” Aunt Susan, though somewhat staggered by the force of this testimony, still maintained that Mrs. Stanton must be mistaken, whereupon the latter repeated, in exasperation, “I tell you it happened when I was weaning Harriet…What event have you got to reckon from?” Miss Anthony meekly subsided.

The Story of a Pioneer, by Anna Howard Shaw. New York, London: Harper & Brothers [1915]. pp. 240+. Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820 to 1910

Elizabeth Cady Stanton died October 26, 1902, before the Woman’s Suffrage Amendment was passed by Congress in 1919. Her papers were donated to the Library of Congress’ Manuscript Division.

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Today in History – November 11

On November 11, 1889, President Benjamin Harrison declared Washington the forty-second state in the Union. Less than fifty years after pioneers began entering the Pacific Northwest via the Oregon Trail, the United States borders extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. Spanish and British explorers landed on the Northwest coast in the 1770s; American explorers followed. In 1818, the United States and Britain jointly occupied the “Oregon Country” of which Washington was a part.

Lake Chelan, in the Cascade Mts., Wash. Pillsbury Picture Co., c 1908. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

In 1844, presidential candidate James K. Polk urged an aggressive stance with regard to ownership of the land below the 54th parallel. The slogan “Fifty-four Forty or Fight” became a rallying cry of the Polk campaign. Two years later, the U.S. and Great Britain signed the Oregon Treaty setting the Canadian-American border at the 49th parallel and granting the United States territory that included present-day Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. In 1848, Congress designated this newly acquired area the “Oregon Territory.”

Bird’s Eye View of the City of Olympia…. E.S. Glover, lithographer; San Francisco: A.L. Bancroft & Co., c1878. Panoramic Maps. Geography & Map Division

Racial exclusion laws prompted the first settlers to venture into the Washington region. In 1844, George W. Bush, a man of African-American or possibly East Indian ancestry on his father’s side (his mother was Irish), was among the early pioneers to Oregon Country. He and his family left Missouri, a slave state, which forbid nonwhites from possessing land and becoming citizens. They set off with their friend, Michael Simmons and his family, along with three other white families on the Oregon Trail.

The Bush and Simmons parties soon learned that the Oregon Provisional Government also prohibited black people from owning property. Bush’s party evaded control of the provisional government by crossing the Columbia River and heading north—away from the American settlers and their government. They settled in late 1845 on land that was under the purview of Britain’s Hudson’s Bay Company—where the restrictive laws were not actively enforced. This land was later named Tumwater, of which Olympia, the state capital of present-day Washington, traces its settlement. The 1846 Treaty of Oregon, however, brought this land under the Oregon Territory’s discriminatory laws.

Bush, a generous man and friends with many of the new territory’s legislators, was now without a clear legal claim on land that he and his family had cultivated. Members of the first session of the Washington Territorial Legislature voted unanimously to petition Congress to validate Bush’s title to his land. Congress read twice and committed a bill on January 30, 1855, “An Act for the Relief of George Bush, of Thruston County, Washington Territory.” The bill passed on February 10, 1855.

With fertile rivers, dense forests, and a natural harbor, the land offered riches to those willing to work. Yet, the region gained slowly in population. Friction with the Cayuse Indians discouraged some settlers while discovery of gold in California lured others. By 1850, natural resources and ready access to California’s growing market spurred migration to Washington. Officially a part of Oregon Territory, popular agitation resulted in the organization of Washington Territory in 1853.

Visiting the West in 1865, newspaper editor Samuel Bowles admired Washington’s lush forests and economic potential. He called the area around Puget Sound, already dotted with saw mills, the “great lumber market of all the Pacific Coast.” Little Olympia he wrote, “puts on the airs and holds many of the materials of fine society; and entertained us at a most comfortable little inn.” Noting the delicious meals he enjoyed there, Bowles joked:

If there is one thing, indeed, more than another, among the facts of civilization, which the Pacific Coast organizes most quickly and completely, it is good eating….When the Puritans settled New England, their first public duty was to build a church with thrifty thought for their souls. Out here, their degenerate sons begin with organizing a restaurant, and supplying Hostetter’s stomachic bitters and an European or Asiatic cook. So the seat of empire, in its travel westward, changes its base from soul to stomach, from brains to bowels.

Samuel Bowles. Our New West. Hartford, CT: Hartford Publishing Co., 1869). 462.

During the period 1878-89, Congress consistently rejected appeals for Washington statehood despite its growing population. Denial of statehood was largely due to a concern that the lack of an interstate railroad connection would interfere in the effective governance of Oregon as a state. More significantly, the legislators hesitated to disturb the delicate balance of Democrats and Republicans in Congress by creating another state. Finally, a decade after its initial request, Congress admitted Washington into the Union along with Montana and the Dakotas.

The Pacific Squadron at Puget Sound Navy Yard. Romans Photographic Company, 1908. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

“California as I Saw It”: First Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900 contains personal accounts of travels in the West, including one by journalist Edward S. Parkinson. His Wonderland; or, Twelve Weeks In and Out of the United States details a cross-country trip he took during the spring and summer of 1892. Parkinson admired Washington’s natural beauty:

The shore of Puget’s Sound, on each side, is densely wooded with forests of pine, fir and hemlock, beginning at the water’s edge and reaching to the snow-line on the high mountains. The landscape forms a most beautiful picture of water, forest and snow-capped mountains.

Edward S. Parkinson. Wonderland; or, Twelve Weeks In and Out of the United States. Trenton, NJ: MacCrellish & Quigley, 1894. p169. “California as I Saw It”: First Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900. General Collections

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Today in History – November 10

Henry Wirz, commander of the infamous Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia, was hanged on November 10, 1865, in Washington, D.C., the only Confederate officer executed as a war criminal.

Execution of Captain Henry Wirtz (i.e. Wirz), C.S.A, adjusting the rope. Alexander Gardner, photographer, November 10, 1865. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Prints & Photographs Division

In November 1863, Confederate officials selected Andersonville as the site of a new prison which was needed to contain the growing number of prisoners. Prisoners began arriving at the hastily constructed Andersonville in late February 1864. On March 27, 1864, the Swiss-born Hartmann Heinrich Wirz was assigned to command the prison at Andersonville, which was given the name Camp Sumter. Planned for 10,000 prisoners, by August 1864, Andersonville, an open stockade, held more than 33,000 Union prisoners. Adequate shelter, edible food, potable water, and medical supplies were lacking, and the population was decimated by starvation and infectious disease. Nearly 13,000 of the more than 45,000 prisoners sent to Andersonville from its opening in 1864 until its capture in April 1865, died there.

The great rebel prison-pen at Andersonville, Georgia. Wood engraving from drawing by R. Sneden, 1865; illus. in: Frank Leslie’s illustrated newspaper, vol. 21 (1865 Oct. 21), p. 73. Prints & Photographs Division

Arrested in May 1865 shortly after the war’s end, Wirz was tried by a military tribunal in August on charges of conspiring with Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and others, to “injure the health and destroy the lives of soldiers in the military service of the United States…” He also was charged with “murder, in violation of the laws and customs of war.” Wirz was caught in the unfortunate position of answering for all of the misery that was Andersonville, though he tried to impose order and security as well as to provide adequate shelter, food, and medical supplies. His defense attorneys despaired of his chances of receiving a fair trial as Northern propaganda and fallout from Lincoln’s assassination worked against him. After two months of testimony rife with inconsistencies, Wirz was found guilty on all counts, court-martialed, and sentenced to death by hanging.

On the morning of November 10, 1865, Henry Wirz…

…rose in his cell at the Old Capitol and wrote a last letter to his wife…Later that forenoon, after giving a few final strokes to a stray cat that had wandered in to share his confinement, he emerged from his cell with a black cambric robe draped over his shoulders…followed the guards into an enclosed courtyard, where chanting soldiers and other spectators hung like vultures in the treetops. There was his life offered up to appease the public hysteria…

William Marvel. Andersonville: The Last Depot. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, c1994

Fair Oaks, Va. Lt. James B. Washington, a Confederate prisoner, with Capt. George A. Custer of the 5th Cavalry, U.S.A. James F. Gibson, photographer, May 31, 1862. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Prints & Photographs Division

Approximately 150 locations were used as military prisons by Confederate and Union armies during the Civil War. These structures were fortifications, former jails, altered buildings, open stockades, enclosures around barracks, and so on. On August 31, 1864, Confederate prisoner of war James W. Duke wrote a letter from a Rock Island, Illinois, Union prison to a cousin in Kentucky. The letter includes an account, probably censored, of conditions at the prison and a drawing of the facility.

During the late winter of 1862, some 800 Confederate prisoners were temporarily incarcerated in Lafayette, Indiana. Writing about this “Forgotten Chapter in Lafayette’s Civil War,” Works Progress Administration writer Cecil Miller noted, “Most of the prisoners were young men, pale, beardless boys, some under seventeen, members of the 32nd and 41st Tennessee regiments. They had served but four and one-half months.” Although prison life was grim on both sides, the misery of war occasionally was lightened by a game of baseball as shown in Otto Boetticher’s 1863 lithograph Union Prisoners at Salisbury, N.C.

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Today in History – November 9

Mathematician and astronomer Benjamin Banneker was born on November 9, 1731, in Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland. Largely self-taught, Banneker was one of the first African Americans to gain distinction in science. His significant accomplishments and correspondence with prominent political figures profoundly influenced how African Americans were viewed during the Federal period.

Portrait of Benjamin Banneker from the cover of his 1795 Almanac. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society

I apprehend you will embrace every opportunity, to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions, which so generally prevails with respect to us [African Americans]; and that your sentiments are concurrent with mine, which are, that one universal Father hath given being to us all; and that he hath not only made us all of one flesh, but that he hath also, without partiality, afforded us all the same sensations and endowed us all with the same faculties…

Benjamin Banneker to Thomas Jefferson. August 19, 1791. Founders Online. National Archives

Banneker spent most of his life on his family’s 100-acre farm outside Baltimore. There, he taught himself astronomy by watching the stars and learned advanced mathematics from borrowed textbooks. In 1752, Banneker garnered public acclaim by building a clock entirely out of wood. The clock, believed to be the first built in America, kept precise time for decades.

In 1789, Banneker began making astronomical calculations that enabled him to successfully forecast a solar eclipse. His estimate, made well in advance of the celestial event, contradicted predictions of better-known mathematicians and astronomers.

Banneker’s mechanical and mathematical abilities impressed many, including Thomas Jefferson, who recommended him for the surveying team that laid out Washington, D.C. In his free time, Banneker began compiling his Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Almanack and Ephemeris… The almanac included information on medicines and medical treatment and listed tides, astronomical information, and eclipses that Banneker had calculated. He published the journal annually from 1791 to 1802.

On August 19, 1791, Banneker sent a copy of his first almanac to then secretary of state Thomas Jefferson. In an accompanying letter, he questioned the slaveholder’s sincerity as a “friend to liberty.” Banneker urged the future president to fight for the abolition of slavery. Jefferson responded by expressing his ambivalence about slavery and endorsing Banneker’s accomplishments:

…no body [sic] wishes more sincerely than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colours of men, and that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence both in Africa & America…

Letter, Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Banneker expressing his belief that blacks possess talents equal to those of “other colours of men,” 30 August 1791.(Thomas Jefferson Papers). Manuscript Division

Jefferson closed by informing Banneker that he had forwarded the almanac to the French philosopher the Marquis de Condorcet for the purpose of dispelling racial prejudices.

In other writings, notably Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson revealed conflicting perspectives on race. The notes in the record for Jefferson’s letter to Banneker include reference to correspondence with diplomat Joel Barlow and French clergyman Henri Gregoire in which Jefferson expresses less favorable attitudes toward African Americans.

Banneker died on October 25, 1806. His accomplishments continued to inspire African-Americans and provide ample evidence of African-American achievement in the sciences.

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Today in History – November 8

On November 8, 1861, U.S. Navy Captain Charles Wilkes commanded the crew of the U.S.S. San Jacinto to intercept the British mail steamer Trent and arrest Confederate commissioners James M. Mason and John Slidell. En route to Europe to rally support for the Confederate cause, the two men and their secretaries were brought ashore and imprisoned at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor.

The San Jacinto, Having Overhauled the British Mail Packet Trent, Forces her to Heave to… Illus. in: The Trent affair, November, 1861 / by Theodore Roscoe. New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1972. p. 44. Civil War. Prints & Photographs Division

The seizure of Mason and Slidell sparked an international controversy that brought the United States to the brink of war with Great Britain. Claiming violation of international law, Britain demanded release of the commissioners and ordered troops to Canada to prepare for a potential Anglo-American conflict. To avoid a clash, Secretary of State William H. Seward apologized for the incident. The diplomats were released in early January 1862, bringing the Trent Affair to a peaceful close.

Portrait of Rear Admiral Charles Wilkes, officer of the Federal Navy. Brady National Photographic Portrait Galleries(Washington, DC), [between 1860 and 1865]. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Prints & Photographs Division

Captain Wilkes’ naval career continued, but only briefly. In 1864, the officer was court-martialed for disobedience, disrespect, insubordination, and conduct unbecoming an officer. Found guilty, Wilkes was publicly reprimanded and suspended for three years. Later, President Lincoln reduced the sentence to one year, and in 1866 the captain was commissioned a rear admiral on the retired list.

The Trent Affair and his court-martial often overshadow Wilkes’ early accomplishments as an explorer, navigator, and surveyor. From 1838 to 1842, Wilkes commanded the U.S. Surveying and Exploration Expedition departing from Norfolk, Virginia, to the Pacific Ocean and “South Seas.” The expedition’s stops included Madeira, the Cape Verde Islands, Tahiti, Sydney, Fiji, Hawaii, the Oregon coast, San Francisco, Manila, Borneo, Cape Town, and St. Helena. His voyage ended in 1842 in New York. Wilkes reported previously undocumented land and is credited as the first person to cite Antarctica as a separate continent.

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